Every year the World Watch List is released. This is a statistical analysis of the persecution that Christians experience around the globe and unsurprisingly makes for sobering reading.
The top (or worst) 50 nations are listed. Again unsurprisingly, North Korea has been in the #1 position for the last 20 years. As it says on the Open Doors website: “Being discovered as a Christian is a death sentence in North Korea. If you aren’t killed instantly, you will be taken to a labour camp as a political criminal.”
Whether oppressed by political regimes, dictatorships, clans, nationalism or other dominant religious beliefs, this persecution is extreme, and obvious.
And to minimise their suffering, forgetting to pray for them just because they are elsewhere around the globe, is a tragedy. If you are a Christian they are ‘part of the family’ and we must care for them in word and in deed. I know that is something I could do more of myself.
However, it would of course be wrong to think that the only form of persecution Christians face around the world is that which could be described as “extreme” or violent.
I’ve been reading in the book of Ezra this week about the Jews returning to their land to rebuild their temple.
Having received permission from Cyrus, King of Persia to return, the Jews do exactly that and settle in their towns. In the seventh month of the year, they all met together and sacrificed to God in a rather large and celebratory gathering. Money was shared so that resources could be sourced and then, in the second month of the second year of their return, they organised the build and laid the foundations.
There is a clear party mood.
But then it all turns sour. A group arrives who are labelled as “the enemies” of those building the temple. Yet their persecution does not involve violence. They offer to help with the build instead and are promptly rejected.
Persecution Style 1: Duplicity
Those organising the build know that these men have only come to sabotage and destroy.
This is not persecution with swords. This is endeavouring to get in amongst the ranks and take control. To stir the pot. To lie. To give false testimony. To act like they wish to bring support.
All with the aim of bringing God’s people down.
Jesus warns in the gospels that a little yeast spoils the whole batch and that there will always be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Here is an example of that, but also more.
Persecution Style 2: Discouragement
Having been barred from “helping” with the build they set out to discourage God’s people and make them afraid.
How they did this, I don’t know. It wasn’t as though they could be a bunch of trolls on social media or misrepresent the group on a television program. I’m not sure what the ancient world equivalent was, but I’m sure they found a way.
And they were persistent with it.
Persecution Style 3: Sustained Psychological Attack
The Bible records that they hired counsellors to work against God’s people. What exactly is meant by counsellors? It could be that they were false prophets or spiritual mentors who lied directly to those who sought them for guidance. It’s chilling to think that they were in such a relationship and that these “counsellors” were being paid to blatantly lie and discourage.
These persecutors backed their campaign with money and it was strategically sustained. They kept it up throughout the reign of three Persian monarchs: “the entire reign of Cyrus… down to the reign of Darius“. If my maths is right, that’s a minimum of 37 years (which is coincidentally my age right now).
Christians are persecuted right around the globe, just in different ways. I have heard it said that persecution increased in the 20th century and that more Christians were persecuted in that century, than all others put together.
I don’t know if that statistic is correct, but persecution is something we should keep an eye out for. We should also remember to not limit our definition of it to just violence or extreme treatment.
We should pray for those that are persecuted and if we’re not Christians, consider what it might be like to be on the other end of that experience.
Yours in broadening the definition,